DA praises ruling opening GPS records

Copyright © 2022 Albuquerque Journal

District Attorney Raúl Torrez on Tuesday lauded a new ruling that GPS tracking records for criminal defendants released pending trial aren’t confidential, but he cautioned that law enforcement may still face legal obstacles in obtaining such data to solve crimes.

He pointed to wording in legislation passed by lawmakers this year that puts limits on when law enforcement can have access to GPS records.

Nevertheless, Torrez said he hoped the ruling by James Noel, a Sandoval County state district judge, would send a message to the 2nd Judicial District Court in Albuquerque to make such information available upon request by prosecutors and police.

District Attorney Raúl Torrez

Noel sided with Torrez’s office, which filed a lawsuit alleging the 2nd Judicial District Court had violated the state Inspection of Public Records Act in refusing to turn over GPS data last year on two defendants who Torrez alleged are “violent repeat offenders.”

“I can tell you that when I first came into office,” Torrez said, “if someone told me that I would actually be forced to file a lawsuit against the district court to get access to GPS information on defendants that the court itself has deemed dangerous and placed on GPS monitoring, I would have said, ‘You’re crazy.’ ”

He said the ruling makes it clear that “pretrial GPS records are public records” and added that law enforcement ultimately hopes to gather GPS information on all defendants under GPS supervision and “cross reference those coordinates with any outstanding criminal conduct in the city.”

Whether the court ruling would be appealed was still up in the air on Tuesday.

“The Second Judicial District Court is committed to fully responding to all records requests that come in from the public and to diligently comply with the Inspection of Public Records Act,” said spokesman Sidney Hill in an email to the Journal. ” While the Second Judicial District Court respects the analysis and decision in the Order issued August 1, 2022, the Second Judicial District Court is evaluating its right to appeal.”

Court officials contended the GPS records sought by the DA’s office were confidential based on the constitutional rights of defendants, Fourth Amendment protections and a judicial deliberation privilege. Defense attorneys also raised privacy concerns on behalf of their clients.

The vast majority of people on pretrial release comply with their restrictions, the state Law Offices of the Public Defender said in a statement Tuesday.

“Even if you think that people who have been charged with a crime should lose their privacy rights, there is a legitimate question whether their minute-by-minute whereabouts should be visible to absolutely everyone,” said the agency’s general counsel Adrianne Turner.

Torrez said Noel’s ruling is especially important “where GPS monitoring of dangerous, repeat offenders is so heavily relied upon instead of pretrial detention.” He appeared at a news conference with Albuquerque Police Department Deputy Cmdr. Kyle Hartsock and Angel Alire, whose 22-year-old son was allegedly killed by a man who was supposed to be monitored via GPS while awaiting trial in a pending case.

On screens behind the DA’s podium were mug shots of three defendants, including a murder suspect, who have absconded in recent months while wearing such monitors. Torrez said his office has no idea how many defendants a year are placed on pretrial GPS ankle monitoring by judges.

Torrez said Noel’s ruling didn’t address new legislation that went into effect July 1. A provision, inserted into the major public safety bill, HB 68, states that officers need to have reasonable suspicion “to believe the data will be probative.” And the data must relate to a pending criminal investigation that isn’t older than a year. Such information also can’t be made part of a public record unless admitted during a criminal trial.

Torrez, who is the Democratic candidate for state attorney general, said he hopes the Legislature will revise that provision given Noel’s ruling that such data is public – without such restrictions.

Otherwise, Torrez said, “It would be bizarre, because law enforcement would have to show reasonable suspicion, while you as members of the public can just say, ‘here’s my IPRA request,’ ” Torrez said. “So there’s a tension in the law. Under that interpretation of HB 68, you would actually have a higher standard for law enforcement.”

Torrez faces Republican attorney Jeremy Gay in the general election.

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